tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN January 23, 2018 2:00pm-3:00pm PST
are worried about those. >> got it. thank you one and all for being here. be sure to follow me on facebook and twitter. you can tweet to me. thanks for watching. happening now, breaking news closing in. the russia probe closes in on the inner circle of robert mueller is seeking to talk to the president in the coming weeks. this as cnn learned he's met with the attorney general jeff sessions and the fired fbi director jim comey stflt russia investigation now heating up? threatening to quit. president trump deny that's his hand picked fbi director christopher wray threatened to quit because of pressure from the attorney general. as the fbi comes under renewed.
and taking the border wall off the table as the white house declares a bipartisan immigration deal dead on arrival. what does that mean for immigrations? and stormy warning. a reported payment to porn star stormy daniels to keep quiet about an alleged sexual relationship with president trump costly that payment be an illegal campaign contribution? i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." there are several stunning developments, receiving all the way into the oval office. tonight the white house, the wash post agent saying the special counsel is poised to question the president himself after interviewing former fbi director jim comey and the attorney general jeff sessions. i'll speak with congressman jim
heinz. and our specialists are all standing by with full coverage. let's begin with pamela brown. what are you learning? >> we've learned that the wash post robert mueller, special counsel, is seeking to interview president trump in the coming weeks about two specific topics. the firing of former fbi director jim comey and the firing of former national security viladviser michael fly. and this indicates that they're really intensifying on obstruction of justice. what the president's mindset was. his intent when he fired jim comey. was to it obstruct justice in the russia probe? as you'll also, he fired his national security adviser because he misled the vice president about his conversations with the russian ambassador kislyak, as we know, according to james comey' memos. he allegedly asked him to drop the flynn investigation.
throws things robert mueller and his team will be looking at if and when they can question the president. those trerms still being worked out. and sarah sanders, the white house press secretary addressed this today during the press briefing. >> as we've said, probably just about every day this year since we've been here that we will be fully cooperative with the special counsel, and we're going to continue to do that throughout the process. we're also not going to comment on who may or may not or could be interviewed. but we'll be fully cooperative with the process. >> and what sarah sanders repeatedly says there's no collusion but it is clear that robert mueller's focus as it pertains to the president is not on collusion. it is more on obstruction of justice. special when i the "washington post" reporting about what the questioning will be about. as i mentioned, the terms are being negotiated. i can tell you for a couple weeks that the lawyer for the president, for the white house, have been trying to figure it out. the lawyers are leaning toward
asking for written questions from robert mueller's team. perhaps a hybrid. looking at the model of president reagan and iran-contra. nothing has been worked out but this will be a significant development to say the least. if and when robert mueller can question the president, and a signal that the russia probe is nearing its end, at least as it pertains to obstruction of justice. >> thank you. the special counsel's probe clearly is heat ing up. jessica? >> we know the rush probe is zeroing in on the president. attorney general jeff sessions spent several hours talking with special investigators last week. a key witness with likely important information to share about two key components. the campaign's possible ties to russians and whether the president may have obstructed the russia investigation.
and new, mueller's team has talked to fired fbi director jim comey. >> jeff sessions was interviewed by special counsel robert mueller's team for several hours last week. the first of the trump cabinet secretaries and the third cabinet level official to be interviewed in the probe. but the president said he isn't worried. >> no. not at all. >> i didn't. i'm not at all concerned. >> sessions was involved in the firing of former fbi director james comey. part of the special counsel's investigation into possible obstruction of justice. comey was also interviewed at some point last year, detailing his interactions with the president. news of these interviews come as details emerge about sessions' oversight. christopher wray threatened to
quit. sessions specifically he referenced deputy director andrew mccabe who the president has been openly attacking on twitter for months, as well as top attorney james baker. though it is under clear if sessions meant they should be reassigned or outright fired. baker was reassigned late last year. and plans to move to the private sector in a statement, write a thanked roy for his years of service writing jim lbl dearly missed by the fbi family and by me personally. >> write a testified that he -- >> i would try to talk him out of it. if that failed, i would resign. >> and the fbi is under republican fire once again over private communications between peter strzok and the lawyer.
an apparent reference to the e-mail investigation, known in the fbi as the mid year exam. i personally have a sense of unfed business. i unleashed it with nye. now i need to fix it and finish it. and there are approximately 50,000 texts between the pair. it is probe yg more than five months of text messages are missing. president trump blasting the agency for the missing texts tweeting, in one of the biggest stories in a long time, the fbi says it is missing five months worth of texts and all in prime time. wow! they should do everything possible. we will leave no uncertainty to find out why these are not now available to be produced. though the republican chairman says cnn he believes knicks texts are merely the risk of a technical glitch. >> the fact that they have provided the rest of them.
certainly doesn't show an intent to try on withhold anything. we just have to wait until we find out. >> the department of justice has already handed over hundreds of pages of these text messages. while some republicans rs seizing on the five months of missing texts as more evidence of wrongdoing, they continue to say the focus on the texts are just an effort to undermine the special counsel's investigation which despite that, wolf, it seems to be going full steam ahead with attorney general jeff sessions last week. james comey last year and now wash po "washington post" saying they home to interview president trump as well. >> thank you for that report. joining us now, democratic congressman jim hines, thank you for joining us. >> good to be with you. >> let's begin with the new report from the "washington post." the special counsel wants to
interview president trump during the coming weeks and plans to focus on his inquiry on the decision to push out the fbi director james comey and his national security adviser michael flynn what does that tell but mueller's probe right now? >> well, i should start by saying there is little or no communication between the fbi's probe, mueller's probe and the congressional investigation of which i am a part on the house side. that said, i'll make the observation that if you think of traditional investigations, they tend to start low and they climb. people who get into trouble in the low levels assist people at the higher levels. and we have a report that attorney general sessions spent time with robert mueller. that is as big a fish as they have been talking to for a very long time. and as we've known for a couple weeks, not known but we've been reporting, there is thinking on when and how to enter view the president. it does not surprise me.
there are questions. if nothing else, jim comey, the former fbi director, said the president asked him to go light on michael flynn. demanded loyalty. there are real questions about the president's behavior and tfg president has denied what jim comey said. the american people will form their own judgment and maybe the fbi can get to the bottom of who is lying in that case. >> does it look like these late-breaking developments suggest to you that they're honing in on obstruction of justice? >> i wouldn't necessarily use the phrase honing in. if comey has been interviewed, if sessions has been interviewed, if the president is being interviewed, that could have to do with the russia investigation and who made what contact with russia. of course, michael flynn lied about his contacting with kislyak. so it is hard to know how much
is russia-related and how much is other-related. people who know jim comey will tell you this is not a guy who ever lies, saying one thing, and the president of the united states who lies on a fairly regular basis saying another. it would be interesting to find out who is telling the truth about what was said to robert mueller. >> so do you think mueller will ask president trump to appear in front of a grand jury? >> whether it is in front of a grand jury or investigators, i think the president needs to sit and answer truthfully questions this investigation has. you cannot lie to the federal government you said oath or not. you can't lie in front of a grand jury. you can't lie if you're in front of robert mueller's people. i think given the discrepancy about what the president says, i
think he'll have to answer questions. this is hardly unprecedented. vag ronald reagan answered questions as well as bill clinton. >> he we've learned that there was a meeting of several hours last week. what light could he shed on this entire investigation? >> well, he would know the kind of pressure that is being placed. and that has been placed on people like rod rosenstein, people like jim comey. he was attorney general. when many of these conversations that are very, very questionable between president trump and jim comey occurred when it is possible and again, these are allegations that the president was pressuring the deputy attorney general. pressuring jeff sessions. we've seen the pressure on jeff sessions. i've never seen, i don't think any of us have ever seen a president openly humiliate his attorney general on twitter. if he's openly humiliating his
attorney general twitter and calling him weak, i would like to know what he's saying behind closed doors. so yes. i think that conversation with attorney general sessions where he is forced to be honest, and not to put spin on things, could be very, very instructive before the the kinds of pressure which are inappropriate from moment one but could rise to the standard of obstruction, that this white house, this president has put on the department of justice. i'll tell you what i do see. i see the house intelligence ongoing effort, and in particular, chairman nunes' effort to damage the credibility of the fbi. most recently with this memo, this constant drum beat of allegations that the fbi has not been straight up. so not just the white house but the house intelligence committee. that they've been doing everything they can to discredit the department of justice. >> the president says he's not
worried about talking with mueller. do you think he should be worried? >> i don't know if he is worried or not. the one thing i know, if he were worried, he would not admit to it. i don't think we'll ever see this president apologize for anything. i don't think we'll ever get him to acknowledge any weakness or errors or acknowledge worrying about anything. i don't put a lot of stock in what he says. >> there was a threat to resign over senior staff at the fbi. during this confirmation hearing, wray said he would resist pressure and would resign in protest if necessary. you heard the clip earlier. do you have confidence in the
fbi direct or, christopher wray? >> i don't know exactly what christopher wray said. if this is a he said she said between a president who said he never threatened to resign. and wray threatened to resign. i'll tell you whose side i'll take. if you step back away from that particular charge, think about the position that the director wray is in. he runs an organization of probably demoralized people. they've been attacked by their own president and the chairman of the house intelligence committee. these are people who get out of bed in the morning and know their job may kill them that day. that they may not come home keeping americans safe. and they have the president besmirching them, throwing mud on them. suggest go they're politically motivated. i can't imagine the kind of tension, the kind of pain that wray must feel as he tries to
manage this organization. while his boss, the attorney general, and his boss's boss, wake up every day with the intention of throwing dirt at these amaze go people. >> some republicans are taking direct aim at the fbi after their release of newly released text messages between two employees who were removed from the mueller probe. they say those texts and others are proof of bias against president trump. >> i see this as the latest installment of benghazi. how much went to jail or were punished for benghazi? uranium one.
when it is studied, it a will be, it will show that there was no misbehavior by hillary clinton. the e-mails, again, they seize on one thing. in this case, they seize on the fact lo and behold, shockingly well educated members of the fbi have political opinions and they share them with each other. wow! that's hardly news. the question is, what they will never show, is whether political opinions held by fbi agents actually in any way, shape or form affected work that they did. think about what mueller did. when i turned out the political opinions of these with particular political agents were expose in the texts, again, they're humans. they have opinions. what did mueller do? he immediately took they will off the investigation. which is probably exactly the right thing to do. but wolf, this is all part. and the famous house memo is just the latest and most dangerous installment of trying to save this president's bacon
by damaging and throwing mouth a storied institutions. >> they are probe yg five months of text messages between those twoe individuals apparently have gone missing. do you have confidence the fbi ends up being fully transparent? >> i don't know. i have no way of knowing. we've seen a lot of these text messages. the fbi has produced a lot of text messages would indicate they're not trying to hide anything. it is hard to imagine. these people had opinions. they expressed them to each other. there's no scandal there. of course the right wing and republicans will do their best to create a sense of scandal as they always do. but when these allegations are
exposed to the light of day, as they were in benghazi. when they explain what was in this outrageous memo which came out, the light of day will show that this is evidence conspiracy fueling for mouth breathers like sean hannity and to excite the activist base. >> thanks as usual for joining us. >> thank you. let's bring in our analyst. what does it tell but the mule investigation? apparently focussing in on james comey. what does it tell but the direction? where it's going with the mueller probe. >> you don't go in talking with someone at the level of attorney general and potentially
president of the united states unless you've double your hole work ahead of time. looking at financial information and also, talking to dozens, maybe even more than dozens of people. it gives me a sense of the conversation with white house officials. james comey, that's about obstruction of justice. talk about what exactly happened. not only what did you write down after those. we know who wrote memos. but who did you speak we afterwards? then you'll speak with them and say what did comey tell you? the other conversations with general flynn will be about what happened in terms of of your conversations about sanctions. so we have the end game with timing and obstruction of justice and any potential quoopgs the russians. >> so i know you're watching this very closely. you're our legal analyst. that questions involving collusion and money laundering may be secondary. the focus is largely on
obstruction of justice? >> no. i think you kmt rule anything out. think about obstruction of justice as like when you get a speeding ticket. when you drive away from a crime. if you were to do so and satisfy many a defendant to say, okay. what happened that got you to this point. the most important thing is it is a jigsaw puzzle. how many do you need in place before you get a big picture of what you're seeing. people like comey and sessions. they seem to have a very clear picture of where they're going. you don't do it unless you have the very, very clear picture. it might include obstruction of justice. it may include money laundering but i wouldn't rule anything out at this point. ? listen to what the president said when he was asked. >> we'll see what happens.
when they have to collusion and nobody has found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely you'll have an interview. >> so he is pretty confident. he keeps saying that, no collusion no, collusion. >> but the focus might be on obstruction of justice. that's true. the president has said that he is not guilty of anything. broadly. not the just focusing on collusion. this is clearly a case that has progressed. the president will have some very tough questions if he does sit down for an interview, co-try to answer mueller's questions. maybe written questions. the president is saying that he is not guilty of anything based on what comey told him when he was in the transition. it might not be relevant anymore. >> they have suggested this. that the president might have
michael nine -- with michael flynn. he may potentially have some documentation that could be very damaging to the president. how worried should the president be about michael flynn's cooperation? >> i don't think the spector of michael flynn will go away. he is someone who was there at the beginning of the campaign through transition into the actual white house. he was involved in all these issues. they should be nervous. based on what we know right now. >> and remember, he is still on the hook. he has every intention to keep cooperating. just because he is found guilty of one count of lying to the fbi doesn't mean there won't be
others. he is still vulnerable to all of those as well. >> if you're looking at vulnerability, i give the president greater vulnerability than flynn. the president goes into these thinking he can talk his way out of it. if he goes into a conversation after many months. maybe going into two years investigation. where special counsel has interviews, financial interviews, et cetera, and thinks that he can talk better than michael flynn can talk when i guarantee you, mueller is asking him questions, asking the president questions where he knows the answer. did you ever have a conversation about whether we should talk to the russians about easing sanctions in no. i never talked on anyone. meanwhile, not only has special other witnesses.o flynn, he has- i think the president is highly vulnerable here. i'm going to guess he will walk in thinking this is a campaign event and he can talk his way out of it. >> the "washington post"
reporting that he wants, that mueller wants to question the president in the coming weeks about mueller and nine. there are various options. does he do it in writing? does he go to the white house for questioning. is there a grand jury. that he testifies under oath. >> two things. you cannot do this in writing. that's a black and white. i'm a gray guy. you cannot do it in writing. you offer the lawyers to provide the answers and not trump and you don't provide the opportunity for follow-up. as soon as you have information, for example, the president talked on his staff about sanctions relief, if the president writes back no, i didn't do it. how do you follow up? no. i would like the get out of the grand jury and have a personal conversation. i want to give the president rope to make a mistake if i were mueller. if you make a mistake, if you lie, it is still a federal legal
violati violation. you don't have to be in front of a grand jury to be lying. >> i think mueller wants to use the in person interview. what you cannot get from black and white paper and a highly vetted response, whether or not ted mens rea and the crimes he's pled guilty to. he can't do it from a vetted statement. you have to get it from the old credibility gut check goms wonder figure you're following the right leads. you have to have that in person. the same way at trial when you have the definite on the assistant answering questions, via text message or jury. they want to believe or disbelieve. >> it is not like doing "the new york times". his lawyers will warn him, you can't exaggerate or bluff. you have to tell truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth. >> although we know the president as someone who is given to hyperbole, outright lies, he does have experience with testifying in depositions. what has happened, in one case, the wash post wrote about one where he was caught in 30 different lies. that is to say, they brought him statements he had made publicly and got him to admit that he had not been truth envelop what he said publicly. >> the president can be -- i'm referring to the interview he did with lester hotel saying he fired comey because he didn't like when comey was doing in the russia investigation. >> to phil's point, candor might be what he needs in this situation. if sxegs tries to talk his way out of it. and or lies. he will find himself in a mess of problems that is much worse
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president about michael flynn and jim comey. let's get reaction from jeffrey toobin. this could happen in the next couple weeks. >> it could. and it will be a defining moment. the president's don't testify very often. and we all remember that president clinton said it depends on what the meaning of the word is, is, during his testimony before kenneth starr. certainly this will be as dramatic a confrontation. the terms of the deal will be tough negotiations. wlrt it is under oath. whether there are cameras present. whether there are lawyers present. all of that needs to get worked out as well as the president's lawyers desire to have some of the questions in writing. i think that will be a complete nonstarter with mueller's office. >> what do you think the key
questions mueller wants to ask the president? >> i have thought from the beginning that the issues surrounding the obstruction of justice, the firing of jim comey, will be the heart of the investigation. the president's defenders have said from the beginning that there is no such crime as collusion. collusion between russian government and the trump campaign. and they're right. there is no such crime as collusion. you can possibly shoe horn other things there. there's no doubt that obstruction of justice is a crime. blin and richard nixon were both subject to impeachment because of it. so much of the questioning will involve michael flynn's departure. the firing of james comey. why that took place. whether there was any cover-up of the real reasons for those actions. that i think is going to be the heart of what mueller's team
will be asking about. >> and it follows what else we learned. that the attorney general of the united states was questioned last week by mueller's team. that's pretty extraordinary when you go to the top of the justice department. >> well, he is a very important witness in this case at two levels. in part because he has given inconsistent answers himself about his connections as member of the trump campaign to the russian government. so he was going to be asked about it. so more importantly, he was a key player in the firing of jim comey and he was a witness to those events. so that will be a very big part that was, i assume, a very big part of what he was asked about when he was interviewing. >> when he testified before congress, we all heard the clips. he didn't remember this. couldn't remember that. can you do that before a special counsel robert mueller repeatedly suggests, i don't remember?
>> you could do it. it won't be effective. they probably already know every single answer. there won't be an investigator and ask one question too many and have the truly open ended. if they're curious people. the goal is to narrow down on what they already know. to box somebody in. it is very important to think about this. obstruction of justice may in fact be part of their inquiry. but they're trying to figure out why you are obstructing. what crime did you not want us to see, we can't just pretend it is what did you in the aftermath. the focus is beyond that. why do you not want to us look in the corner the of room? what is there, donald trump? >>. >> we think we might not a lot about this investigation and we don't. what mule and his team knows right now is a ton of information that is not widely known and will be used as they go to this next level.
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has. a couple questions, what has general flynn offered and what has he said about the white house and the authorization of conversations with the russians? what kind of e-mails has the team, the fbi team under mueller acquired around the meeting, the famous meeting last june with don jr.? what kind of financial transactions have they reviewed between russians or russian intermediaries? i'll go back to my career at the fbi, 30 seconds or less. i remember following a terrorism suspect who was communicating in code with a terrorism recruiter in europe. that subject was in a major u.s. city. that subject was he researching how to build a backpack bomb and he traveled to washington, d.c. how to use a bomb potentially against the u.s. capitol or other facilities. the u.s. public never knew about the case. what i'll saying is they're acquiring a ton of information. robert mueller has never spoken and he won't until they've dwhaermd to say. he knows a lot.
>> can i add, one area in particular, i think, phil briefly alluded to this. is the whole financial side. people have talked a lot in a very loose way that oh, trump has all these connections to rush and they gave him money and he owes money to the russians. i don't know any hard facts. in area. there have been even conflicting reports about whether mueller has even subpoenas deutsche bank where both donald trump and jared kushner did a lot of banking. what those records show, if anything, regarding financial ties between trump and russia are enormously important. but it is not something that i or i think anyone who has followed this case really knows at this point. >> a good point. a good point indeed. i'm sure they have a lot of those financial records because money laundering has been a subject of some discussion. the current fbi director, christopher wray, we reported other news organizations have
reported despite the president's denial that he actually threatened to quit. to resign. he felt that the attorney general, jeff sessions, was putting pressure from the white house on him to shake up his staff. that's a major significant development. >> it is. especially given that at his own confirmation hearing, you talked about trying to resign if he was forced to do anything illegal or improper. accepting the fbi would somehow be a political puppet or marionette. we haven't heard confirming reports from the white house that he in fact can threaten to resign. the key is understanding that this is an independent agency whose job it is not to act at the will of the executive branch of the white house. it is their job to pursue justice and whatever that means for they will. the decisions about mccabe. i am hearing phil's perspective because -- >> he is the deputy direct or. >> the thoughts that he may retire or they're trying to force him out. it is a bizarre thing but one
that shows this wray is trying to be independent. >> and i wonder who told the president. the president said it's not true. it's not true. i wonder if sessions or somebody may have told that to pthe president or he just said it. everybody, stand by. there is more news. we're following a watch dog group who lodges a formal complaint.
tonight, more questions about the legality of a reported $130,000 payment just before the election to a porn actress. the payment allegedly intended to buy her silence about a sexual relationship with donald trump. let's go to cnn's brian todd. these questions just are coming as some prominent social and religious conservatives are giving the president a pass apparently on these allegations. >> reporter: that's right. two evangelical leaders say they're willing to overlook the story basically because they believe the president has delivered on their agenda. this comes as a liberal leaning watch dog group claims that payment was an illegal campaign contribution and calling for a federal investigation. tonight, the stormy daniels case presents a possible legal entanglement for president trump. the group common cause lodged a
complaint, alleging that the reported $130,000 payment to daniels in 2016 to keep silent about an alleged sexual relationship with trump was an illegal campaign contribution, arranged by trump's attorney. >> i think this payment to stormy daniels was for the purpose of influencing the election. that makes it a contribution to the campaign and expenditure by the campaign. >> reporter: common cause wants the federal election commission and justice department to investigate. common cause says the timing of the payment is crucial. that because daniels was reportedly paid just weeks before the 2016 election and stopped talking to media outlets around that time, the payment benefited trump's presidential campaign. and therefore was a campaign contribution. a contribution that, if it existed, would have exceeded limits on donations and may have violated the law if it wasn't reported. some finance experts say it will be tough to prove it was a campaign related experience,
because trump might have paid daniels even if he wasn't a candidate. >> to determine what the source of funds were, they have to gather facts, and that could involve a conversation with cohen that could involve a conversation with the stormy daniels. it could potentially involve a conversation with the president, all of which is not good. >> reporter: daniels, who appeared at strip club in south carolina this past weekend, and apparently booked other appearances since the story broke, denies getting hush money. and both daniels and michael cohen denied the affair. tonight, some leaders on the religious right are giving trump a pass on the daniels case. >> we kind of gave him, all right, you get a do-over here. >> reporter: tony perkins, leader of the family research council, said trump is providing the leadership his movement needs. and frankly graham, who said
bill clinton should resign, said the same thing on msnbc. >> we don't hold him up as the pastor of this country, and he's not. but i appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for christian values. >> obviously when democrats crossed ethical lines, it was easy to criticize them. but they did make character an issue. that was one of the hallmarks of the evangelical christian movement. what they did with president trump is to throw that out the window. >> reporter: michael cohen never denied making a payment to her, but says that common cause complaint is baseless, as is the allegation that president trump filed a false report with the federal elections commission. but we have other questions for cohen, specifically just where did the reported money paid to daniels come from? from the trump organization, trump's personal funds, the trump campaign, a donor or from michael cohen himself? cohen did not get back to us regarding those questions.
>> it's interesting, brian. there was a similar case involving another prominent politician, john edwards. >> reporter: that was. in 2012, he was prosecuted for secret donations made to his mistress. but edwards was not convicted. the jury found the money spent for a candidate is not necessarily money spent for a campaign and not regulated by campaign finance law. people are giving this case against president trump a long shot because of that precedent with john edwards. >> brian, thank you very much. brian todd reporting. much more on this story in the next hour. also coming up, the breaking news. the special counsel's russia probe closes in on the president and his inner circle. robert mueller is seeking to talk to the president in the weeks ahead, as cnn learns his team has already met with the attorney general, jeff sessions, and the fired fbi director james comey.
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quit over pressure to oust senior members. is the president trying to meddle with the bureau? north korea even closer. the cia director issues a stark new warning that kim jong-un is just months away from being able to attack the united states with nuclear weapons. what more can the trump team do to protect and defend americans? firestorm. the white house facing questions about a porn star's alleged affair with mr. trump, and with the hush money she was said was illegal. this as some prominent christian conservatives are ignoring the scandal. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." this is cnn breaking news. >> we're following multiple breaking stories in the russia investigation. tonight, "the washington post" reports that special counsel robert mueller is